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Cultural Compass
Cultural Compass

Cultural Compass

Looking to truly understand America? Go beyond its famous cities. At InterExchange, we specialize in J-1 visa sponsorship and match you with U.S. hosts that offer more than just a tourist experience. Our team has handpicked a list of lesser-known towns, museums, and cultural spots to give you a deeper dive into American life. And while you’re here, don’t miss our recommendations for U.S. books, movies, music, and sports—it’s a fun way to improve your English, too.


The Northeast region of the United States is a highly populated area along the East Coast, home to bustling cities, quiet rural areas, idyllic beach communities and suburban neighborhoods. While early U.S. history has a strong presence in the Northeast, the many cultural and ethnic groups that continually migrate to this area of the country also have a strong influence on the region. This mix of old and new populations, diverse landscapes and wide-ranging lifestyles present many cultural learning experiences for international visitors.

United States history is rooted in the Northeast, and offers numerous opportunities to learn about America’s early European settlers and the beginnings of the U.S. as a country. Some of the oldest and most populated cities in the U.S. are located in this region, including Boston, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City. These major cities are located within a few hours of one another and it’s easy to travel between the major Northeastern hubs using public transportation as well as buses, trains and planes.

InterExchange participants can experience this dynamic region in any number of ways. Catch a game of American football, baseball, hockey or basketball at a local college or professional sports arena, or watch tennis at the U.S. Open in New York City. Go on a hike to enjoy the beautiful fall foliage of New England. Try skiing or snowboarding in the mountains of Vermont or upstate New York. Wander around an art museum in New York or Washington, D.C. Explore the revolutionary history of Boston. We’ve created this cultural guide to help match your interests with one of the many cultural activities available in your area – so explore our state-by-state guide and find your own adventure in the Northeast!

Learn more about states in the Northeast

DelawareNew HampshireRhode Island
MaineNew JerseyVermont
MarylandNew York

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The southern United States has a culture all its own, and most Southerners are fiercely proud of it. The rich history of the Southeast can be seen in its friendly small towns and big cities like Atlanta, Memphis, New Orleans, and Charleston, and in its music, art, cuisine, and culture.

Home to bluegrass, jazz, gospel, the blues, and Elvis, the musical influence of the Southeast is hard to deny. International visitors won’t be disappointed by the music, art and entertainment activities in the region. As for its cuisine, Southern cooking is influenced by many cultures, including Mexican, French, British, Creole/Cajun, Central and South American, and Caribbean. While working and traveling in the Southeast, international visitors may get the chance to try specialties like po’ boys, gumbo, fried chicken, barbecue, catfish, Key lime pie, or even alligator!

As the site of many Civil War battles, the Southeast also offers many historical sites and attractions, like Fort Sumter in South Carolina, Antietam in Maryland and Vicksburg in Mississippi. Outdoors enthusiasts may enjoy hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail, a backpacking trail that run from Georgia to Maine in the northeast United States, or visiting one of many national parks in the region, like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Or you may wish to enjoy the beach towns along the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico.

Learn more about states in the Southeast

GeorgiaNorth CarolinaWest Virginia


Often called “America’s Heartland”, the Midwestern United States is made of large cities, small towns and farming communities spread across a large area of the U.S. Images of the Midwest often focus on flat plains and sprawling farmland, but it’s also home to major cities like Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and St. Louis.

Food in the Midwest finds inspiration from the European cuisine of the early settlers and the local fruits, vegetables and animals found in the region. Today, the cultural influence of immigrants has changed the cuisine of urban Midwest areas and increased the variety of foods available, but hearty, home-made food remains popular throughout the region. Kansas City is well known for its barbecue, Chicago for its style of pizza and hot dogs, while the Great Lakes provide plenty of fresh seafood for the area.

There are many options for outdoor recreation in the Midwest, like fishing, boating and going to the beach at the Great Lakes, exploring Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills, visiting a national park, or rafting on the Mississippi River. For arts and culture, many museums and performing art venues can be found in the region – further details about art and cultural experiences can be found in our state-by-state guide to the U.S.

Learn more about states in the Midwest

IllinoisMichiganNorth Dakota
IowaMissouriSouth Dakota


The Southwestern United States is known for its arid deserts, red rock landscapes, rugged mountains and natural wonders like the Grand Canyon. The diversity of people who have lived and moved to the Southwest give it a distinctive culture and history that continues to grow and evolve today.As the original inhabitants of the region, many Native American tribes have left their mark on Southwestern culture. International visitors can see examples of Native American influences in the artwork of the region, museums, tribal lands, and at historical sites like the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico.  The impact of the area’s Spanish American history and the current Latino population can also be experienced, including Tex-Mex cuisine, Latino arts and music, cultural sites, and the many Spanish-speaking communities of the region. Many visitors also want to experience the Old West and the region’s history of cowboys, gold mining and the filming of Hollywood westerns.Outdoor recreation and extreme sports are also popular in the Southwest, including hiking, mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding and whitewater rafting. For more examples of cultural learning activities in the Southwest, visit one of the U.S. state guide pages to find local festivals, sports, museums, historical sites, transportation options and other helpful tools to improve your cultural learning experience.

Learn more about states in the Southwest


The Western United States is a region of variety. Hawaii in the Pacific, isolated Alaska, the rainy Pacific Northwest, sunny southern California and the other western states may not seem to have much in common, but they all have a large number of events, activities and attractions for international visitors looking to experience U.S. culture.First thing to do? Get outside! The West is home to some of the most breathtaking scenery in the country, from the beaches of Hawaii to the rocky Pacific coastline of California to the vast plains of Montana, and there are outdoor recreation options to suit any lifestyle.  See our state-by-state guide for specific examples of outdoor activities in each state.The Western states in the U.S. have their own distinct cultures and histories, but they are also tied together by a common frontier heritage. Mining towns, pioneer homesteads and cowboys are traditional Western icons in movies and art, and there is evidence of their presence throughout the region, such as the Custer Historic Mining Town in Idaho or the Elkhorn ghost town in Montana.The influence of Native Americans and other ethnic communities, like Hispanic, Asian and African American populations, contributes to the cultural diversity in the Western states. To find out more about the culture of the Western U.S., browse our state-by-state guide.

Learn more about states in the West


American Culture - Our Top Picks

Traveling and working in the United States provides valuable opportunities for exchange visitors to gain exposure to day-to-day life, but they can also learn about U.S. culture through books, movies, television shows, music, sports and food. There are hundreds of ways to experience American culture, and even the most basic entertainment like TV shows allows visitors to see different perspectives on life in the U.S.

The InterExchange staff has put together lists of our favorite forms of entertainment that portray life and culture in the U.S. Guidebooks and travel are fantastic ways to get to know the United States, but adding books, music, TV shows and movies to get an image of what life is like in America is a fun supplement for enjoying a truly American experience. They can also be an excellent way to start a conversation with a new American friend or co-worker!

Sports are also an important part of the fun and unique entertainment options in the United States – from major league professional teams to college athletics to hobby sports you can try out for yourself.

And we can’t forget about food! Our team has lots of opinions when it comes to the best foods in the U.S., so check out our delectable descriptions of some American favorites (it’s not all fast food!)

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